The mind supply

As chief executive of Tata Consultancy Services, S Ramadorai is in charge of a greater number of staff than anyone else in the Indian IT industry.

TCS employs around 140,000 people, more than either of its local rivals Infosys and Wipro. That places him at a uniquely high vantage point from which to reflect on the dynamics of the global talent market.

In the USA, Ramadorai sees a country conflicted by competing imperatives. “America is going through a couple of changes and challenges,” he says.

“There has been the change of administration and they have gone through historic levels of unemployment of over 10%. So people are talking about producing jobs and restricting visas and so on.

“But at the same time, there are discussions around resisting protectionism, and making sure America attracts the best talent,” he explains.

The resolution of this debate has yet to be seen, he adds, but he notes that the use of offshore resources by US businesses is as great as it has ever been.

The UK, meanwhile, is of particular significance to Ramadorai, not least since he was awarded the CBE for his contribution to Anglo-Indian economic relations in April 2009. The ‘special relationship’ between the two historically linked countries, he says, could be used to address some issues of global significance.

“The mutual respect and understanding between the UK and India can help us to work together on some strategic issues, such as security, the environment and trade.” But as pools of talent for his company, both countries still play one very specific role, as sources of mature industry experience.

“When we look at lateral hires, meaning people with experience, we find that the talent available in the UK and the US is phenomenally good,” Ramadorai explains.

Lower down the organisational hierarchy, however, these countries cannot compete with India. “When it comes to entry-level professional graduates, we find India has the advantage,” Ramadorai says. “Indian graduates come with a certain level of experience and a technical competence that is absolutely current. And India provides that in bulk. That means that if I take an Indian graduate, I can train them in just 52 days.”

That does not mean he believes that the UK’s higher education system should necessarily become as vocationally focused as India’s.

“In fact, even in India we are beginning to question whether we should take such a vocational view,” he says. But he does believe that basic science and mathematics education needs to be improved, as it does in all countries.

“People wonder why it is that an Indian kid, or a Chinese kid or a Japanese kid is always top of the class,” he says. “I think it’s because these countries value education, and believe you need mathematics to succeed.”

As a generation, Ramadorai and his peers revolutionised the Indian economy by delivering information technology to the West. But for today’s young generation of Indians, it is the unique challenges of their own society that ignites the imagination.

“The graduates joining us now look at the Tata Nano [the $2,000 car produced by TCS’s sister company, Tata Motors] and it excites them that we can make cars of such quality and affordability,” he says. “Then they look at the fact that mobile penetration in India is set to reach 500 million by 2010, and they think about the possibilities there are for reaching out to the masses.

“The phenomenal scale that is happening [in India] is grounds for innovation,” Ramadorai says.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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